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fantastic schemes for escape, for getting word to the outside world of
his presence here, and one by one he gave them up in disgust as their
impossibility forced itself upon him. Plans and schemes were useless
while he lay bedridden, unfamiliar even with the house wherein he dwelt,
with the garden and park that surrounded it.

As for aid from any of the inmates of the place, that was to be laughed
at. They were engaged together in a scheme so desperate that failure
must mean utter ruin to them all. He sometimes wondered if the two
servants could be bribed. Avarice unmistakable gleamed from their
little, glittering, ratlike eyes, but he was sure that they would sell
out for no small sum, and in so far as he could remember there had been
in his pockets, when he came here, not more than five or six louis.
Doubtless the old Michel had managed to abstract those in his daily
offices about the room, for Ste. Marie knew that the clothes hung in a
closet across from his bed. He had seen them there once when the
closet-door was open.

Any help that might come to him must come from outside - and what help
was to be expected there? Over and over again he reminded himself of how
little Richard Hartley knew. He might suspect Stewart of complicity in
this new disappearance, but how was he to find out anything definite?
How was any one to do so?

It was at such times as this, when brain and nerves were strained and
worn almost to breaking-point, that Ste. Marie had occasion to be
grateful for the Southern blood that was in him, the strong tinge of
fatalism which is common alike to Latin and to Oriental. It rescued him
more than once from something like nervous breakdown, calmed him
suddenly, lifted his burdens from outwearied shoulders, and left him in
peace to wait until some action should be possible. Then, in such hours,
he would fall to thinking of the girl for whose sake, in whose cause, he
lay bedridden, beset with dangers. As long before, she came to him in a
sort of waking vision - a being but half earthly, enthroned high above
him, calm-browed, very pure, with passionless eyes that gazed into far
distance and were unaware of the base things below. What would she think
of him, who had sworn to be true knight to her, if she could know how he
had bungled and failed? He was glad that she did not know, that if he
had blundered into peril the knowledge of it could not reach her to hurt
her pride.

And sometimes, also, with a great sadness and pity, he thought of poor
Coira O'Hara and of the pathetic wreck her life had fallen into. The
girl was so patently fit for better things! Her splendid beauty was not
a cheap beauty. She was no coarse-blown, gorgeous flower, imperfect at
telltale points. It was good blood that had modelled her dark
perfection, good blood that had shaped her long and slim and tapering

"A queen among goddesses!" The words remained with him, and he knew that
they were true. She might have held up her head among the greatest, this
adventurer's girl; but what chance had she had? What merest ghost of a

He watched her on the rare occasions when she came into the room. He
watched the poise of her head, her walk, the movements she made, and he
said to himself that there was no woman of his acquaintance whose grace
was more perfect - certainly none whose grace was so native.

Once he complained to her of the desperate idleness of his days, and
asked her to lend him a book of some kind, a review, even a daily
newspaper, though it be a week old.

"I should read the very advertisements with joy," he said.

She went out of the room and returned presently with an armful of books,
which she laid upon the bed without comment.

"In my prayers, Mademoiselle," cried Ste. Marie, "you shall be foremost
forever!" He glanced at the row of titles and looked up in sheer
astonishment. "May I ask whose books these are?" he said.

"They are mine," said the girl. "I caught up the ones that lay first at
hand. If you don't care for any of them, I will choose others."

The books were: _Diana of the Crossways, Richard Feverel,_ Henri
Lavedan's _Le Duel_, Maeterlinck's _Pelleas et Mélisande, Don Quixote de
la Mancha_, in Spanish, a volume of Virgil's _Eclogues_, and the _Life
of the Chevalier Bayard_, by the Loyal Servitor. Ste. Marie stared at

"Do you read Spanish," he demanded, "and Latin, as well as French and

"My mother was Spanish," said she. "And as for Latin, I began to read it
with my father when I was a child. Shall I leave the books here?"

Ste. Marie took up the _Bayard_ and held it between his hands.

"It is worn from much reading, Mademoiselle," he said.

"It is the best of all," said she. "The very best of all. I didn't know
I had brought you that."

She made a step toward him as if she would take the book away, and over
it their eyes met and were held. In that moment it may have come to them
both who she was, who so loved the knight without fear and without
reproach - the daughter of art Irish adventurer of ill repute - for their
faces began suddenly to flush with red, and after an instant the girl
turned away.

"It is of no consequence," said she. "You may keep the book if you care

And Ste. Marie said, very gently: "Thank you, Mademoiselle. I will keep
it for a little while."

So she went out of the room and left him alone.

This was at noon on the sixth day, and, after he had swallowed hastily
the lunch which had been set before him, Ste. Marie fell upon the books
like a child upon a new box of sweets. Like the child again, it was
difficult for him to choose among them. He opened one and then another,
gloating over them all, but in the end he chose the _Bayard_, and for
hours lost himself among the high deeds of the Preux Chevalier and his
faithful friends - among whom, by the way, there was a Ste. Marie who
died nobly for France. It was late afternoon when at last he laid the
book down with a sigh and settled himself more comfortably among the

The sun was not in the room at that hour, but from where he lay he could
see it on the tree-tops, gold upon green. Outside his south window the
leaves of a chestnut which stood there quivered and rustled gently under
a soft breeze. Delectable odors floated in to Ste. Marie's nostrils, and
he thought how very pleasant it would be if he were lying on the turf
under the trees instead of bedridden in this upper chamber, which he had
come to hate with a bitter hatred.

He began to wonder if it would be possible to drag himself across the
floor to that south window, and so to lie down for a while with his head
in the tiny balcony beyond, his eyes turned to the blue sky. Astir with
the new thought, he sat up in bed and carefully swung his feet out till
they hung to the floor. The wound in the left leg smarted and burned,
but not too severely, and with slow pains Ste. Marie stood up. He almost
cried out when he discovered that it could be done quite easily. He
essayed to walk, and he was a little weak, but by no means helpless. He
found that it gave him pain to raise his left leg in the ordinary action
of walking or to bend that knee, but he could get about well enough by
dragging the injured member beside him, for when it was straight it
supported him without protest.

He took his pillows across to the window and disposed them there, for it
was a French window opening to the floor, and the level of the little
balcony outside was but a few inches above the level of the room. Then
the desire seized him to make a tour of his prison walls. He went first
to the closet where he had seen his clothes hanging, and they were still
there. He felt in the pockets and withdrew his little English pigskin
sovereign-purse. It had not been tampered with, and he gave an
exclamation of relief over that, for he might later on have use for
money. There were eight louis in it, each in its little separate
compartment, and in another pocket he found a fifty-franc note and some
silver. He went to the two east windows and looked out. The trees stood
thick together on that side of the house, but between two of them he
could see the park wall fifty yards away. He glanced down, and the side
of the house was covered thick with the ivy which had given the place
its name, but there was no water-pipe near, nor any other thing which
seemed to offer foot or hand hold, unless, perhaps, the ivy might prove
strong enough to bear a man's weight. Ste. Marie made a mental note to
look into that when he was a little stronger, and turned back to the
south window where he had disposed his pillows.

The unaccustomed activity was making his wound smart and prickle, and he
lay down at once with head and shoulders in the open air, and out of the
warm and golden sunshine and the emerald shade the breath of summer came
to him and wrapped him round with sweetness and pillowed him upon its
fragrant breast.

He became aware after a long time of voices below, and turned upon his
elbows to look. The ivy had clambered upon and partly covered the iron
grille of the little balcony, and he could observe without being seen.
Young Arthur Benham and Coira O'Hara had come out of the door of the
house, and they stood upon the raised and paved terrace which ran the
width of the façade, and seemed to hesitate as to the direction they
should take. Ste. Marie heard the girl say:

"It's cooler here in the shade of the house," and after a moment the two
came along the shady terrace whose outer margin was set at intervals
with stained and discolored marble nymphs upon pedestals, and between
the nymphs with moss-grown stone benches. They halted before a bench
upon which, earlier in the day, a rug had been spread out to dry in the
sun and had been forgotten, and after a moment's further hesitation they
sat down upon it. Their faces were turned toward the house, and every
word that they spoke mounted in that still air clear and distinct to the
ears of the man above.

Ste. Marie wriggled back into the room and sat up to consider. The
thought of deliberately listening to a conversation not meant for him
sent a hot flush to his cheeks. He told himself that it could not be
done, and that there was an end to the matter. Whatever might hang upon
it, it could not be asked of him that he should stoop to dishonor. But
at that the heavy and grave responsibility, which really did hang upon
him and upon his actions, came before his mind's eye and loomed there
mountainous. The fate of this foolish boy who was set round with thieves
and adventurers - even though his eyes were open and he knew where he
stood - that came to Ste. Marie and confronted him; and the picture of a
bitter old man who was dying of grief came to him; and a mother's face;
and _hers_. There could be no dishonor in the face of all this, only a
duty very clear and plain. He crept back to his place, his arms folded
beneath him as he lay, his eyes at the thin screen of ivy which cloaked
the balcony grille.

Young Arthur Benham appeared to be giving tongue to a rather sharp
attack of homesickness. It may be that long confinement within the walls
of La Lierre was beginning to try him somewhat.

"Mind you," he declared, as Ste. Marie's ears came once more within
range - "mind you, I'm not saying that Paris hasn't got its points. It
has. Oh yes! And so has London, and so has Ostend, and so has Monte
Carlo. Verree much so! I like Paris. I like the theatres and the
vaudeville shows in the Champs-Elysées, and I like Longchamps. I like
the boys who hang around Henry's Bar. They're good sports all right, all
right! But, by golly, I want to go home! Put me off at the corner of
Forty-second Street and Broadway, and I'll ask no more. Set me down at 7
P.M., right there on the corner outside the Knickerbocker, for that's
where I would live and die." There came into the lad's somewhat strident
voice a softness that was almost pathetic. "You don't know Broadway,
Coira, do you? Nix! of course not. Little girl, it's the one street of
all this large world. It's the equator that runs north and south instead
of east and west. It's a long, bright, gay, live wire! - that's what
Broadway is. And I give you my word of honor, like a little man, that
it - is - not - slow. No-o, indeed! When I was there last it was being
called the 'Gay White Way.' It is not called the 'Gay White Way' now. It
has had forty other new, good names since then, and I don't know what
they are, but I do know that it is forever gay, and that the electric
signs are still blazing all along the street, and the street-cars are
still killing people in the good old fashion, and the news-boys are
still dodging under the automobiles to sell you a _Woild_ or a _Choinal_
or, if it's after twelve at night, a _Morning Telegraph_. Coira, my
girl, standing on that corner after dark you can see the electric signs
of fifteen theatres, not one of them more than five minutes' walk away;
and just round the corner there are more. I want to go home! I want to
take one large, unparalleled leap from here and come down at the corner
I told you about. D'you know what I'd do? We'll say it's 7 P.M. and
beginning to get dark. I'd dive into the Knickerbocker - that's the hotel
that the bright and happy people go to for dinner or supper - and I'd
engage a table up on the terrace. Then I'd telephone to a little friend
of mine whose name is Doe - John Doe - and in about ten minutes he'd have
left the crowd he was standing in line with and he'd come galloping up,
that glad to see me you'd cry to watch him. We'd go up on the terrace,
where the potted palms grow, for our dinner, and the tables all around
us would be full of people that would know Johnnie Doe and me, and
they'd all make us drink drinks and tell us how glad they were to see us
aboard again. And after dinner," said young Arthur Benham, with wide and
smiling eyes - "after dinner we'd go to see one of the roof-garden shows.
Let me tell you they've got the Marigny or the Ambassadeurs or the
Jardin de Paris beaten to a pulp - to - a - pulp! And after the show we'd
slip round to the stage-door - you bet we would! - and capture the two
most beautiful ladies in the world and take 'em off to supper."

He wrinkled his young brow in great perplexity. "Now I wonder," said he,
anxiously - "I wonder where we'd go for supper. You see," he apologized,
"it's two years since I left the Real Street, and, gee! what a lot can
happen on Broadway in two years! There's probably half a dozen new
supper-places that I don't know anything about, and one of them's the
place where the crowd goes. Well, anyhow, we'd go to that place, and
there'd be a band playing, and the electric fans would go round and
round, and Johnnie Doe and I and the two most beautiful ladies would put
it all over the other pikers there."

Young Benham gave a little sigh of pleasure and excitement. "That's what
I'd like to do to-night," said he, "and that's what I'll do, you can bet
your sh - boots, when all this silly mess is over and I'm a free man.
I'll hike back to good old Broadway, and if ever you see any one trying
to pry me loose from it again you can laugh yourself to death, because
he'll never, never succeed.

"That's where I'll go," he said, nodding, "when this waiting is
over - straight back to Liberty Land and the bright lights. The rest of
the family can stay here till they die, if they want to - and I suppose
they do - _I'm_ going home as soon as I've got my money. Old Charlie'll
manage all that for me. He'll get a lawyer to look after it, and I won't
have to see anybody in the family at all.

"Nine more weeks shut in by stone walls!" said the boy, staring about
him with a sort of bitterness. "Nine weeks more!"

"Is it so hard as that?" asked the girl.

There was no foolish coquetry in her tone. She spoke as if the words
involved no personal question at all, but there was a little smile at
her lips, and Arthur Benham turned toward her quickly and caught at her

"No, no!" he cried. "I didn't mean that. You know I didn't mean that.
You're worth nine years' waiting. You're the best - d'you hear? - the best
there is. There's nobody anywhere that can touch you. Only - well, this
place is getting on my nerves. It's got me worn to a frazzle. I feel
like a criminal doing time."

"You came very near having to do time somewhere else," said the girl.
"If this M. Ste. Marie hadn't blundered we should have had them all
round our ears, and you'd have had to run for it."

"Yes," the boy said, nodding gravely. "Yes, that was great luck."

He raised his head and looked up along the windows above him.

"Which is his room?" he asked, and Mlle. O'Hara said:

"The one just overhead, but he's in bed far back from the window. He
couldn't possibly hear us talking."

She paused for a moment in frowning hesitation, and in the end said:

"Tell me about him, this Ste. Marie! Do you know anything about him?"

"No," said Arthur Benham, "I don't - not personally, that is. Of course
I've heard of him. Lots of people have spoken of him to me. And the odd
part of it is that they all had a good word to say. Everybody seemed to
like him. I got the idea that he was the best ever. I wanted to know
him. I never thought he'd take on a piece of dirty work like this."

"Nor I," said the girl, in a low voice. "Nor I."

The boy looked up.

"Oh, you've heard of him, too, then?" said he.

And she said, still in her low voice, "I - saw him once."

"Well," declared young Benham, "it's beyond me. I give it up. You never
can tell about people, can you? I guess they'll all go wrong when
there's enough in it to make it worth while. That's what old Charlie
always says. He says most people are straight enough when there's
nothing in it, but make the pot big enough and they'll all go crooked."

The young man's face turned suddenly hard and old and bitter.

"Gee! I ought to know that well enough, oughtn't I?" he said. "I guess
nobody knows that better than I do after what happened to me.... Come
along and take a walk in the garden, Maud! I'm sick of sitting still."

Mlle. Coira O'Hara looked up with a start, as if she had not been
listening, but she rose when the boy held out his hand to her, and the
two went down from the terrace and moved off toward the west.

Ste. Marie watched them until they had disappeared among the trees, and
then turned on his back, staring up into the softly stirring canopy of
green above him and the little rifts of bright blue sky. He did not
understand at all. Something mysterious had crept in where all had
seemed so plain to the eye. Certain words that young Arthur Benham had
spoken repeated themselves in his mind, and he could not at once make
them out. Assuredly there was something mysterious here.

In the first place, what did the boy mean by "dirty work"? To be sure,
spying, in its usual sense, is not held to be one of the noblest of
occupations, but - in such a cause as this! It was absurd, ridiculous, to
call it "dirty work." And what did he mean by the words which he had
used afterward? Ste. Marie did not quite follow the idiom about the "big
enough pot," but he assumed that it referred to money. Did the young
fool think he was being paid for his efforts? That was ridiculous, too.

The boy's face came before him as it had looked with that sudden hard
and bitter expression. What did he mean by saying that no one knew the
crookedness of humanity under money temptation better than he knew it
after something that had happened to him? In a sense his words were
doubtless very true. Captain Stewart - and he must have been "old
Charlie"; Ste. Marie remembered that the name was Charles - O'Hara, and
O'Hara's daughter stood excellent examples of that bit of cynicism, but
obviously the boy had not spoken in that sense - certainly not before
Mlle. O'Hara! He meant something else, then. But what - what?

Ste. Marie rose with some difficulty to his feet and carried the pillows
back to the bed whence he had taken them. He sat down upon the edge of
the bed, staring in great perplexity across the room at the open window,
but all at once he uttered an exclamation and smote his hands together.

"That boy doesn't know!" he cried. "They're tricking him, these others!"

The lad's face came once more before him, and it was a foolish and
stubborn face, perhaps, but it was neither vicious nor mean. It was the
face of an honest, headstrong boy who would be incapable of the cold
cruelty to which all circumstances seemed to point.

"They're tricking him somehow!" cried Ste. Marie again. "They're lying
to him and making him think - "

What was it they were making him think, these three conspirators? What
possible thing could they make him think other than the plain truth?
Ste. Marie shook a weary head and lay down among his pillows. He wished
that he had "old Charlie" in a corner of that room with his fingers
round "old Charlie's" wicked throat. He would soon get at the truth
then; or O'Hara, either, that grim and saturnine chevalier d'industrie,
though O'Hara would be a bad handful to manage; or - Ste. Marie's head
dropped back with a little groan when the face of young Arthur's
enchantress came between him and the opposite wall of the room and her
great and tragic eyes looked into his.

It seemed incredible that that queen among goddesses should be what she

* * * * *



When O'Hara, the next morning, went through the formality of looking in
upon his patient, and after a taciturn nod was about to go away again,
Ste. Marie called him back. He said, "Would you mind waiting a moment?"
and the Irishman halted inside the door. "I made an experiment
yesterday," said Ste. Marie, "and I find that, after a poor fashion, I
can walk - that is to say, I can drag myself about a little without any
great pain if I don't bend the left leg."

O'Hara returned to the bed and made a silent examination of the bullet
wound, which, it was plain to see, was doing very well indeed. "You'll
be all right in a few days," said he, "but you'll be lame for a week
yet - maybe two. As a matter of fact, I've known men to march half a day
with a hole in the leg worse than yours, though it probably was not
quite pleasant."

"I'm afraid I couldn't march very far," said Ste. Marie, "but I can
hobble a bit. The point is, I'm going mad from confinement in this room.
Do you think I might be allowed to stagger about the garden for an hour,
or sit there under one of the trees? I don't like to ask favors, but, so
far as I can see, it could do no harm. I couldn't possibly escape, you
see. I couldn't climb a fifteen-foot wall even if I had two good legs;
as it is, with a leg and a half, I couldn't climb anything."

The Irishman looked at him sharply, and was silent for a time, as if
considering. But at last he said: "Of course there is no reason whatever
for granting you any favors here. You're on the footing of a spy - a
captured spy - and you're very lucky not to have got what you deserved
instead of a trumpery flesh wound." The man's face twisted into a heavy
scowl. "Unfortunately," said he, "an accident has put me - put us in as
unpleasant a position toward you as you had put yourself toward us. We
seem to stand in the position of having tried to poison you, and - well,
we owe you something for that. Still, I'd meant to keep you locked up in
this room so long as it was necessary to have you at La Lierre." He
scowled once more in an intimidating fashion at Ste. Marie, and it was
evident that he found himself embarrassed. "And," he said, awkwardly, "I
suppose I owe something to your father's son.... Look here! If you're to
be allowed in the garden, you must understand that it's at fixed hours
and not alone. Somebody will always be with you, and old Michel will be
on hand to shoot you down if you try to run for it or if you try to
communicate with Arthur Benham. Is that understood?"

"Quite," said Ste. Marie, gayly. "Quite understood and agreed to. And
many thanks for your courtesy. I sha'n't forget it. We differ rather
widely on some rather important subjects, you and I, but I must confess
that you're very generous, and I thank you. The old Michel has my full
permission to shoot at me if he sees me trying to fly over a
fifteen-foot wall."

"He'll shoot without asking your permission," said the Irishman, grimly,
"if you try that on, but I don't think you'll be apt to try it for the
present - not with a crippled leg." He pulled out his watch and looked at
it. "Nine o'clock," said he. "If you care to begin to-day you can go out
at eleven for an hour. I'll see that old Michel is ready at that time."

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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 15 of 23)